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Just when everything was going wrong, everything went right: A survivor story

Just when everything was going wrong, everything went right: A survivor story
Suffocate – to cause to die from lack of air or inability to breathe. Crush – to press something very hard to destroy its shape or so that it breaks into pieces. Entangle – to pull into machinery's moving/spinning danger points. They are a trio of fates straight out of the pages of horror stories. Yet, on a cold March morning in 2019, John Boland found himself facing an uncertain future – taunted by the very real prospect of all three nightmares, entrapped in one of his grain bins on his farm in Sadorus, Illinois.

“My first thought was, how stupid I was for getting myself into the situation I was in, then quickly my thoughts went to my family and to God,” Boland shares. “I wanted to see my three daughters and my wife again.”

Understanding what went wrong that fateful day is understanding grain bin safety. “Grain bin storage on the farm needs to be handled cautiously as one mistake can result in entrapment inside the bin and/or asphyxiation,” Amy Rademaker, the Carle Rural Health and Farm Safety program coordinator, says. It was seemingly by divine intervention that Boland escaped death or disfigurement when he had his accident. Now, he shares his cautionary tale with all who will listen, hoping his words will keep them from ever experiencing the terror he did.

So, where did things go wrong?

Safety strategy #1 - Never enter grain bins when unloading equipment is operating.
“The conveyor was running when I entered the bin with a steel rod to dislodge some pods that were jamming the pit to get things moving again,” Boland explains. “Lock out/tag out is a critical step before entering grain bins,” shared Rademaker. According to the National Ag Safety Database (NASD) around 80% of reported engulfments involve a person inside a bin or storage structure when grain-unloading equipment is running. It was the movement when the grain started flowing again that pulled Boland in.

Safety strategy #2 – Never work alone in a bin, make sure there is an outside observer who can get to help quickly.
“The guy who was supposed to be working with me that morning hadn’t shown up yet and wasn’t there when I entered the bin,” shares Boland. It is important that the person entering the bin and the person outside the bin maintain constant communication be it verbal or by hand signals.

Safety strategy #3 – Always wear a harness and lifeline.
Bolan was not wearing a harness and lifeline when he went into the bin to try and dislodge the jam. Since his accident, he has made it absolutely clear that no one enters his grain bins without the potentially life-saving equipment. “A body harness and an anchored lifeline can help with fall resistance, but it also remains crucial that there is an observer outside to control the amount of slack, making sure the person in the harness only has what is necessary to move.  Too much slack can still result in an entrapment,” shares Rademaker.

Safety strategy #4 - Make sure all farm workers know the risks and rules.
“We have a safety meeting at least once a year now,” says Boland. “I have very strict rules about working around the grain bins and I am not afraid to fire anyone who doesn’t follow them. I don’t want anyone hurt on my farm.”

Grain bins are one of the biggest safety hazards for farmers who work in and around them. “It is so important that farmers and workers are aware of these threats in order to protect themselves from serious injury or accidental death,” stresses Rademaker. “Safety meetings and emergency rescue plans help create a safer farm environment for everyone -- make all employees agree to the safety measures and sign forms that document safety requirements.”

Thankfully for Boland, his story did not end tragically.

“Everything that morning fell into place perfectly to get me out safely,” Boland remembers. “I appreciate everything more and I can’t thank the responders enough for everything they did.”

Was it divine intervention, pure luck, or just coincidence? Boland believes it was all three.
  • When his farm helper finally arrived he found Boland in the grain bin and called for help. Multiple fire departments responded, including the Urbana FD, which is the lead on entrapments – they brought their expertise and a grain tube.
  • Also hearing about the accident was a nearby farmer-owned cooperative company that just happened to be hosting a safety meeting that morning and had brought in a variety of machinery for attendees to see and discuss – they brought over a grain evacuator.
  • And it never hurts that while trapped in grain up to his chin and base of his skull, Boland thinks he saw Jesus sitting on the east side of the bins. He politely asked him to quit kicking beans down on him. Which interestingly enough, stopped shortly thereafter.
Boland made it out through everyone working together and EMTs offered additional care on the way to Carle Foundation Hospital by ambulance. He had hypothermia from being in the cold grain for nearly two and a half hours but was otherwise uninjured and was able to go home once his blood pressure went down and his core temperature rose.

 “I wanted to tear that grain bin down but didn’t,” says Boland. “I must have a greater purpose because I made it out okay. If sharing my experience can save at least one person, it was worth it.”

Carle Rural Health & Farm Safety is hosting a series of webinars on Farm safety that will be recorded and available on the website for viewing. Find more information about farm safety, including grain bin safety and the webinar series, on the Carle website.

Categories: Community

Tags: Agriculture, Farm Safety, Rural Health